Mutable Rain Frogs – Shape-Shifting Amphibians That Change Skin Texture in Minutes

Scientists in Ecuador have discovered a new species of frog that is able to morph the texture of its skin – from spiny to smooth – within a matter of minutes. Aptly named ‘mutable rain frog’, the tiny, finger-nail sized creature is the first shape-shifting amphibian to ever be found.

According to a Livescience report, the mutable frogs were found in Reserva Las Gralarias, a protected cloud reserve forest on the western slopes of Ecuador’s Andes Mountains. The incredible discovery is credited to biologist Katherine Kryna and naturalist Tim Krynak, who have spent the past decade combing the reserve for rare frog species.

The duo first spotted the frog in 2006, when they had captured it on camera. On closer inspection of the photograph, they realised that it could be a new species. The frog’s spiny-textured skin stood out, so they started calling it ‘punk rocker’. “It wasn’t until we saw the amazing texture of its skin that we thought, ‘wow, this is something different,’” said Katherine.


Photo: Katherine Krynak

In 2009, the Krynaks finally spotted the elusive punk rocker frog a second time, and grabbed it for a detailed photo session. They put it in a small plastic cup and left it there overnight. The next morning, when Kathrine opened the cup, she found that the frog’s spines were gone. Thinking that they had grabbed the wrong frog, they decided to return it to the forest that night. “We were so disappointed because it had taken years to find another one,” Kathrine explained.

But the Krynaks were in for a surprise the next time they checked on the frog – the spines were back! “It was kind of remarkable,” Katherine recalled. “We were both kind of in shock at this point.” Tim then took a series of photographs documenting the transition on a smooth white board, clearly showing the frog transform from prickly to smooth in about five minutes.


Photo: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

According to the Krynaks, mutable rain frogs – usually less than an inch in length – use the shape-shifting spines for camouflage in the mossy forests. But they need to test the idea to check if it is true. And they still aren’t clear about exactly how the frogs manage to morph their skin.

Katherine stressed on the importance of documenting the behavior of new species, and also preserving amphibian habitats because populations are in decline around the world. “Amphibians are declining so rapidly that scientists are oftentimes describing new species from museum specimens because the animals have already gone extinct in the wild,” she said.

Source: Live Science

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